2017 | rated R | starring Fiona Dourif, Alex Vincent | directed by Don Mancini | 1hr 31mins |

2017 Halloween Horrorfest #7

{Contains Spoilers for Curse of Chucky}

Chucky, the Killer Doll, often gets bundled in with the horror creations that proliferated in the 80s, but where Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers cranked out sequels until they burned out and rehashed much of the same framework over and over (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare not withstanding), writer/director Don Mancini has taken a much more caring and deliberate approach with his creation. Long after the original trilogy was thought left to the dust bin of schlock horror history, Bride of Chucky emerged in the post-Scream self-referential 90s and reinvented the brand with a new tone of wacky, bloody insanity. Mancini took the director’s chair and doubled down hard on the bad one-liners and obvious meta-jokes in the aggressively obnoxious Seed of Chucky, a film so reprehensible it banished the series from theaters. It was the best thing that ever happened to The Good Guy doll. With a small budget and a little ingenuity, Mancini returned with Curse of Chucky, a single-location gothic horror film that quietly rebooted the series and married the best of it’s previous identities, delivering a dumb-fun slasher flick with the series’ unique sense of wackiness.

Now we have the 7th film in the series, Cult of Chucky, the continuation of Curse and the third iteration of a series you can divide sharply between the original Child’s Play and Chucky movies. All of that lays the groundwork for the lengths Mancini now needs to go to keep the series fresh. I really like how with each iteration he takes the weirdest possible path. Cult of Chucky is wonderfully wackadoo gonzo crazy in some of the most fun possible ways.

The film picks up 4 years after Curse. We last left wheelchair-bound Chucky survivor Nica (Fiona Dourif) being hauled off to the nut house protesting that The Good Guy doll, not her, murdered her entire family. In a post-credit Easter Egg we got to see Andy (Alex Vincent) for the first time since Child’s Play 3 seemingly blowing Chucky’s head off with a shotgun. For his arc, we see what a child who was tormented by a doll grows up to be. The apparent incongruity from the end of Curse is explained in Cult as more and more Good Guy Dolls start showing up to the snow-enclosed mental institute that Nica now resides with a handful of other patients. Even as the bloody murders and decapitations start piling up most of Cult resides under a mystery where it presents us with things seemingly outside the rules of the series. For 2/3rds of the film, the most likely reaction will be “what the hell is going on here?” as it gets weirder.

Mancini populates this little world with a handful of patients: guy named Multiple Malcolm who tries to help Nica while lapsing into celebrity personalities, a woman who looks like an aged Elizabeth Olsen who wants nothing to do with murderer Nica and another lady who killed her child and thinks the therapist’s Chucky doll is her baby. There is also the perverted doctor who uses hypnosis and electro-shock therapy in increasingly suspicious ways. Mancini pays all of these off beautifully. And it all looks quite good. Where Curse was set in a dark old house, Cult is set in a slick white-walled laboratory. It looks like the Assassin’s Creed Animus labs. Despite it’s indie budget, Cult might be the best looking Chucky movie ever. It might even be beautiful if you like shards of glass falling with your slow-motion snow.

One of the things that is so utterly charming about Curse and Cult is Mancini’s insistence to use practical puppet effects to bring Chucky to life. So he looks a bit clunky when he walks and moves his mouth. The sight of his little plastic hand reaching for a butcher knife strikes that perfectly ironic note between ridiculous, creepy and kind of adorable. It’s a formula for maximum camp and the film knows just how goofy it is. Chucky (still voiced by Brad Dourif) gets to deliver his bad murder puns and self-referential meta-jokes (including a shout-out to the Hannibal series Mancini worked on) but it’s dialed way back from Seed. Sparing is the name of the game for both of these movies and everything here is doled out and unfolded in good measure.

This is an uphill argument. I get that the sick humor and bloody violence of the Chucky movies are an acquired taste inside another acquired taste. I didn’t like them either until Curse of Chucky. Cult may not hit the refreshing high of that film but it forges ahead into a unique spin on the series. When it gallops into it’s third act, it’s about as fun and crazy a horror pay-off we will get this year. This is a unique and bizarre movie that carves out it’s own identity in a sea of direct-to-video blandness. The series has shifted focus from being a killer doll slasher to one that inks out inventive ways to play with the soul-swapping voodoo curse aspects of it’s mythology. It’s always fun to get a new layer to the mechanics of how Chucky works.  Can his limbs move if you cut them off? What are the limits of the people and things he can transfer into? Does he feel pain?

Speaking of the third act, in Curse Fiona Dourif proved a strong and capable new scream queen. Cult offers the actress a bigger challenge that she rises to with gusto. Without giving away some genuine surprises in the final minutes, Dourif is given a very specific task here and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. Where previous incarnations of Chucky were guilty pleasures or, at best, good-bad guilty pleasures (like Bride of Chucky), Curse and now Cult of Chucky aren’t good-bad, they’re very good-bad. It’s all the fun of a gory slasher movie, a creepy doll Annabelle movie and a wise-cracking self-parody rolled into one.